Threadless Guide (2)

Unofficial Threadless Guide

Welcome to the unofficial Threadless guide! This is a short, four-chapter guide to help you out. It's both for both newer members and more seasoned designers who might be looking for an opportunity to learn something new.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, you can see my process of making an entire design from start to finish. It follows my typical design pattern, which involves drawing with my tablet in Photoshop. If you don't use Photoshop, or even if you're not working with raster images, it might still be worthwhile to read through. Though the details might not pertain to you, some of the general principles could be of use.

The Idea

As you might expect, the first step to designing is having a good idea. You might remember in the previous section that I talked about how I believe that well-received designs are strong in either concept, aesthetic value, or both. You should brainstorm designs with this in mind. What's the story your design is telling? What's the mood that it's conveying?

In this chapter, I'm going to develop a design from an idea I came up with while lying in bed. I looked over, saw a pair of slippers, and thought it'd be amusing to draw a pair of slippers slippin' around. It's a silly idea, and I'm not expecting it to do that well, but I just like drawing so I'm going through with it anyway.

If you've got artist's block, you might find inspiration in the different printing methods available to us designers – you can print your shirt in many more ways than just regular ink.

Printing Methods

In the most basic printing method, each color is laid down one-by-one onto the shirt. If your design has just a few colors (no more than 8, usually), you can design with this in mind. Separate your colors onto different layers. This means each UNIQUE color, even if it's, say, a different shade of 'blue.' Each one goes on its own layer. You can download an example PSD below:


If your design has a gradient or lots of different colors, Threadless can print it via a method called simulated process. Simulated process uses just a few colors to give the appearance of many different colors. If you've ever looked up close at a magazine cartoon, you can see that all of the colors are produced in this way. Here's a good guide to simulated process printing. You can download a sample PSD of a design that could be printed with simulated process below:


Threadless has other printing methods, too. They can print designs huge, so that it extends all over the front of the shirt.

They can print designs that connect the front and back of the shirt together.

In addition to these printing methods, there are special inks, too. The most popular of which are UV and glow-in-the-dark inks, such as the ones skillfully used in these designs:

Opening The Program

Now we're ready to open up our program of choice. Here's what Photoshop greets me with when I open it up.

When I first started using Photoshop a few years ago, the interface was a bit daunting to me. If you feel the same way, I wouldn't worry. As you use it, you'll become more and more comfortable with it.

If you happen to also be using Photoshop, it's fine if the layout of your program doesn't look exactly like mine. The organization of the windows within Photoshop is called your "Workspace." Everyone uses a different Workspace; over time, you'll find one that works for you. For now, don't worry too much about the different windows I've got open.

If you want to display a window that isn't there, you can make it appear again by finding it under the Window option in the top menu.

Let's open up a new document. Select File - New from the top menu and a dialog will appear. Don't hit "OK" just yet, though -- we need to make sure we're working with a document that's the right size.

The printing area of the front of the shirt is 14"x17" (4200x5100 px), and the resolution recommended by Threadstaff is 150dpi. For safety's sake, I always work at 300dpi. It'd be a shame if Threadless couldn't print a design because it was too small!

The DPI and dimensions are all you need to worry about. Don't bother with any of the other settings.

After inputting the right settings, you can make what's called a 'preset' by hitting Save Preset. The dropdown menu lets you select from your list of presets, so you'll never need to manually input the values again.

Photoshop Essentials

Go ahead! Draw something! Drawing with a tablet can be strange at first, but it becomes second nature once you put enough time into it. I actually draw better with a tablet than with a pencil now.

If your pen is drawing lines of constant thickness, like in the above, you'll need to adjust the pen properties. On the Brush panel (Window-Brush), adjust the following setting:

If you don't press the lock, then the feature will be turned off if you select a different brush tip to use. I keep it locked.

Now, your pen should respond to how hard you're pressing down.

There's just one other feature of Photoshop you'll need to familiar with before you start your design: layers.

To show you what layers are, we'll go through a demonstration together. Open up the layers panel by going to Windows-Layers.

Make a new layer by clicking the button on the panel. Then, draw something on it. Now make another new layer and position it above the other layer on the Layers panel. Changing their positions is easy: click and hold the layer, then drag it with your mouse to reposition it.

Once it's in the right place, draw on this other layer, too.

Now play around! Each layer can be edited and modified completely independent of the layer beneath it. You can erase, change the color, and change many features of this layer without affecting any other layer. Try it out!

For illustrators, this usually means that you do your linework on the topmost layer, and color beneath it. Play around with layers and get a feel for them.

Once we're familiar with layers and we have our pen pressure turned on, we're ready to start our design.

The Sketch

I always start with a sketch. It helps me figure out the composition of the piece and where the elements stand in relation to one another.

In Photoshop, I start by first making a new layer. The "Background" layer that is created with every document is filled with white. You'll learn through experience that it's very inconvenient to work with a layer that's filled with white. Because of this, I never draw anything on the Background layer.

To be organized, I always give a name to my different layers. Simply double click the current name of the layer to change its name.

It's tempting to be lazy and skip this step. If your design ends up spanning many layers, you may find yourself in a messy situation!

After giving my layer a label, I doodle a (very) quick sketch. This first sketch is just to get the general shape of the design down. I don't try to include any details at all.

I make my sketches in black, and then reduce the opacity of the layer. I'm less reluctant to erase and redo my lines when they're on the verge of disappearing already.

Some artists use light colors, like a light blue, to do their sketches. This is fine, too. Changing the color of your brush is easy. From the Tools panel (Window-Tools), select this option:

Once I've got the first sketch done, I make yet another sketch! In this sketch, I include more fine details.

In more detailed designs, I can do three or even four sketches before I begin putting in the final lines. This design is pretty simple, so I think two is enough.


Before I start finalizing the design, though, I always get feedback. People are friendly here -- they like to help out when they can. You don't want to nearly finish a design only to be told it'd look better if it was a little different (this has happened to me before).

Admittedly, the feedback process isn't ever this simple. For this design alone, I asked several people their opinions numerous times. Here are a few old sketches I went through.

But now I've gotten plenty of feedback on the sketch, and I'm ready to start the final drawing. The whole time while drawing, I seek continuous feedback from people. If I get the sense that something doesn't quite look right, it's always helpful to get others' opinions.

Final Design

Since my last sketch is so detailed, this step is usually pretty quick. I just go over all of the lines with black. This is also why pressure sensitivity is so nice. Varying your line width makes your lines look interesting and more alive than if you draw with a constant line width. Try it out on your design and see what you think.

Once that's done, it's time to add color. I always start by selecting the color of the shirt. Using the Threadless tee template pack, I select a shirt color that seems to work best for the design.

Photoshop has a tool that turns the current color of your brush to whatever you click on the screen. It's called the eyedropper tool.

Select it, then click somewhere on the tee. that color becomes your active color!

Once that's done, we need to fill in our Background layer of our design. Head over to the design file and make the Background layer active by clicking on it. Then, press Alt+Delete. Voila, it's filled!

This is just one of the many useful shortcuts that will save you time. I recommend continually seeking out new shortcuts to incorporate into your work flow (an occasional Google search is all you need to do to learn new ones).

From this point on, different artists would follow different paths based on how they design. Naturally, the following method is my personal way of designing. This isn't the right way, by any's just what works for me.

Firstly, I'll go ahead and change the color of the lines to be a dark blue. This will integrate the lines more into the shirt.

We're not actually going to change the color of the lines on the layer. Rather, we're going to apply a filter to it to make the lines look like a different color. This helps Threadless out: when they send the design to the printer, they make each layer black. I always draw in black and use filters to change my colors.

Luckily, applying a filter is easy. While holding the Alt key down, press the "adjustment" button from the Layers panel.

Navigate your cursor to the Solid Color... option at the very top, and press it.

Holding the alt key down when you make your selection brings up a dialog box. You want to check this option:

After you hit "OK," a color picker opens up. I picked a nice dark blue.

What a clipping mask does is only apply the filter to the layer that it's clipped to. If you don't click it to anything, it'll make your whole design look one color!

If you forget to hold down the Alt key, don't worry. You can make a clipping mask by right clicking the layer and selecting the correct option.

Once we've got that all figured out, our lines look dark blue! Awesome!

The next part, as you might have guessed, is to add the rest of the colors. I think I'll go for two different values that are darker than the background. Each one will go on a different layer, for a total of 3 different colors (lines + 2 shadows)

I apply the color until the design is complete. I put highlights, shadows, and that sort of thing in. While working, I asked for feedback multiple times. In the end, I got this:

I've made a bunch of changes to the design since the 'final lines' I did earlier. You should compare the two and see how many differences you can spot. This all comes from the feedback I got from fellow designers here at Threadless.

Also, here's a screenshot of the Layers panel of the final design, so you can see how I stay organized.

As you can see, I store my layers in folders. It's easy to make a folder, just click the button to the left of the New Layer button.

You might also notice that the layers I draw on, Dark1, Dark2, Dark3, have those symbols with a circle next to them. These are called Masks.

Feedback (Again)

Now don't be too hasty to submit. It's tough sometimes, but you should really get feedback one more time. Ask someone how it looks. Sometimes, it'll be good to go. Other times you may need to make drastic changes.

Alright, I got permission to submit it. Excellent! This marks the end of the second chapter of the unofficial Threadless guide. In the next one, I'll go over everything there is to know about preparing your submission files: Flash presentations, the little GIF images, and everything else I could think of. See you there!

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

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jesshanebury profile pic Alumni

um, this is AWESOME! yay! i'm gonna give a shout out about this! (also, in the beginning contents guide, everything says 1 right now, just fyi)



wow, good tut blog!

opifan64 profile pic Alumni

great tutorial. one suggestion I'd make is that with screen printing I think it's better to leave the line art (and any subsequent colour layers) as black and change them using a colour overlay.

opifan64 profile pic Alumni

it saves them a step when they're making the screens because they can just turn off the layer effect.

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

opifan64 on Jun 29 '12 at 5:36pm one suggestion...

good idea, ill change it.

and thanks for the positive feedback guys:)

opifan64 profile pic Alumni

Another way to change the line colour is just to double click on the layer to bring up the Layer Style window. Under blending options you click "color overlay". The default color is red, but if you click on the red box you can change it to an colour. Not sure if it's easier than your method, it's just the method I use.

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

im still working on changing a few details, but the major parts of this are done. i hope you like it!


sweet tutorial. any tips on how to pick colors?


Dude this is awesome of you. I'm slowly trying to get a handle on photoshop, and will definitely check these out. Very cool thing to put out there for the community ;)

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

chapter 2 is nearly done as well!

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

chengui, think you could re-link that? it doesn't seem to be working heheh

and yeah, thomas, that's AIM.


wow, great tutorial :)

soloyo profile pic Alumni

Sequels are usually not as good as the originals...

This blog is twice as good as the first one!

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

awesome stuff, yo. im making a 5th (I know, its a lot) post for videos and such. definitely putting that there.

Ryder profile pic Alumni

great job!

I work solely in Illustrator, myself.. but photoshop looks fun too!



I am new to designing in Threadless, but I do my drawings in inkscape, can you anyone give me some tips or guide on how to put my drawing into the psd templates?

Cheers. zz2

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

Hey zz2,

So Inkscape is a vector program, while PSD are for Photoshop, a raster program. You'll probably have more luck trying to open the .AI template files that come in the download.

This thread, post two, gives a description on how to make Inkscape open AI files.



Thank you! this is realy helpfull because i am terrible with photoshop but i realy want to learn it this is a good way and you explane it very fun and clear :D


Nice work Jellyes.

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni


i need to find time to sit back and read through these to make edits and add more videos!

glad y'all are finding them useful.

My Gameface

Great nice to have a pdf of it

celandinestern profile pic Alumni

this is super awesome stuff!!!!

toopersent profile pic Alumni

Awesome tutorial. Wish this was around when I started.

I'd also add that to color your layers, you can also apply a "color overlay" in the layer FX screen. Not really sure what the difference is, because the overall effect is the same. That is just the way that I learned. In the layer FX screen, you can also apply a gradient overlay, which can be useful too.

toopersent profile pic Alumni

I see now that the Overlay method was mentioned. Cool.


I'm lost- can you tell me how to post a design to get feedback ? can't seem to find out how to enter it for help ? thanx

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

it looks like they may have removed the critique section of the website!

can anyone confirm?

nathan-hinshaw profile pic Staff

Hey James: It hasn't been removed--we're working on making it even better and it will be back soon. If you or anyone else has ideas on what you would like to see or something you think would be helpful to the critique process please let us know.


What I'm not understanding is how to move my design from the template to the image given with the template packet. I created my design in illustrator, saved it as ai, pdf, & exported as a jpg just in case. Went to photoshop to add it in the masking layers, but i had to pieces them in there...I'm just really confused & is there a youtube video i could watch? help? :(


what if you want to use a drawing you already did ? couldn't you just upload it ? or its not the same ?


I bookmark n watch this super awesome blog!!

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

chan, either is fine, really, but ultimately your design will end up in the CMYK format for printing. With that in mind, you might as well stick to it from the beginning.

hellvetica, I'm glad you like it! Really awesome work, by the way. You'll be printed in no time.

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

woops look at that. all the images are broken. I'll have to fix that sometime, huh :)


hello Jellyes, I don´t have permission to download the psd and pdf files.

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